Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Mo Amer, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan
Runtime: 2 hrs 5 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Opening Day: 20 October 2022
Synopsis: From New Line Cinema, Dwayne Johnson stars in the action adventure "Black Adam." The first-ever feature film to explore the story of the DC Super Hero comes to the big screen under the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra. In ancient Kahndaq, Teth Adam was bestowed the almighty powers of the gods. After using these powers for vengeance, he was imprisoned, becoming Black Adam. Nearly 5,000 years have passed and Black Adam has gone from man, to myth, to legend. Now released, his unique form of justice, born out of rage, is challenged by modern day heroes who form the Justice Society: Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Atom Smasher and Cyclone.
15 years after it was first announced that Dwayne Johnson would play ‘Black Adam’, the DC character with the powers of Superman but none of his kindness finally makes his debut in the DC Extended Universe. For those who are counting, this is the 11th film in the DCEU, though it was not until 2017 when Johnson became a global star in his own right was it decided that Black Adam would get his own movie instead of just being a nemesis to the wizard Shazam in the latter’s feature film.
It isn’t hard to see why Johnson was drawn to the character in the first place – as Black Adam, or known for most part of this origin story as Teth Adam, tells the superhero Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) from the Justice Society sent to contain him, he has absolutely no qualms being judge, jury and executioner. Indeed, his amorality lies at the heart of ‘Black Adam’.
It is why we get a complicated backstory through an extended prologue and multiple flashbacks of how a heroic teenager named Hurut found the courage to defy the oppressive reign of King Anh-Kot in the magnificent ancient kingdom of Kahndaq back in 2,600 B.C., and for his nobleness, was gifted by the wizards to wield the powers of Shazam, which led not only to the destruction of the king but the entire kingdom after a rage-fuelled confrontation.
It is also how we are introduced to the Justice Society, comprising Hawkman, Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), who are sent to present-day Kahn-daq to stop Adam after he is awakened from a 5,000-year slumber. Whilst trying to preach why extrajudicial killings are wrong, these four superheroes, in particular Hawkman, will come to confront their hypocrisy in the eyes of the citizens of Kahndaq.
It also defines ‘Black Adam’ from the rest of the DC superhero films which have come before, not counting the decidedly ultra-violent ‘Suicide Squad’ movies and ‘Birds of Prey’. Between the lightness of ‘Shazam!’ or ‘Wonder Woman’ and the grimness of ‘Batman v Superman’, ‘Black Adam’ finds an inspired balance that harks back to both sets of predecessors while defining its own tone that even allows Adam to indulge in some tongue-in-cheek gallows humour.
To director Jaume Collet-Serra’s credit, ‘Black Adam’ succeeds in building out an entirely fictional world to tell a story of how its titular protagonist went from antagonist to antihero. Especially notable about the land of Kahn-daq is its political relevance, not just how its fate has parallels with that of the Iraqis and Palestinians, but also of how it questions the very notion of what it means to be a hero to such people living under the constant yoke of oppression, taking a dig at Western nations in the process.
As he demonstrated in ‘Jungle Cruise’, Collet-Serra knows his way around a four-quadrant summer blockbuster, and ‘Black Adam’ reinforces his credibility as a savvy and confident helmer. Whilst avoiding the gloominess of Synderverse, Collet-Serra embraces its slo-mo aesthetic and deploys it judiciously against a backdrop of dusty vistas bathed in low-lying sun. Lest there be any doubt therefore, the action is always comprehensible, largely coherent, and sometimes rather awesome.
That awe also rests on the giant shoulders of Johnson, who has made no attempt to conceal the fact that ‘Black Adam’ is a passion project. Challenging himself to play slightly against type, Johnson emerges, though stoic, still just as magnetic as you would expect him to be. There is no question that he looks the part, but beyond the physique, Johnson invests himself emotionally into the role to bring both grit and gravitas; that said, Johnson shows how good a deadpan comedian he has become over the years, relishing the few opportunities in the movie to wisecrack with both his co-stars Hodge and Brosnan.
Though this is unquestionably Johnson’s movie, there is more than sufficient space for the supporting actors to shine. Most memorable is Brosnan, who is clearly having fun playing a Doctor Strange-like character with both a fatalistic sense of the future and a lightness of touch. Hodge is suitably gruff, but is one-note next to Sarah Shahi and Bodhi Sabongui, playing a rebel leader Adrianna and her pre-teen son Amon respectively whose fates become intricately tied to that to Adam. A surprising scene-stealer is Mohamed Amer, who as Adrianna’s brother gets some of the nice pockets of humour, including a recurring bit with the 70s’ hit ‘Baby Come Back’.
Truth be told, we’re relieved that ‘Black Adam’ is as good as it is, given the spotty track record of the DCEU thus far. Johnson has waited more than a decade to make his superhero debut, and it is (rock) solid, with the actor juggling the complexity, superiority and strength of his character beautifully. And though there is plenty of CGI, Collet-Serra never forgets the scale and scope of the action scenes, delivering a suitably bombastic blockbuster in an intriguing make-believe land with real-world similarities. The plotting and character work could be stronger, but otherwise, ‘Black Adam’ is a compelling entry for this antihero, topped off as the rumours go with a doozy mid-credits scene that will leave you cheering.
(As thrilling a start for this antihero as we had hoped for, Dwayne Johnson's superhero debut as and in 'Black Adam' is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster with emotion, humour, politics and sheer spectacle)
Review by Gabriel Chong